Music, Opera, and History

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Music as a Mirror of History

By: Robert Greenberg

Narrated by Robert Greenberg

Robert Greenberg (American composer, pianist, and musicologist.)

Robert Greenberg offers an introduction to the history of classical music and opera. Its appeal is to a wide audience of dilettantes that know a little but not a lot about anything. Greenberg argues classical music’ and opera’ composition is a creation of its time. (Undoubtedly true of all music and theatre.) 

However, Greenberg supports his argument with a fascinating critique of classical composers and events of history that influence composers’ work. Greenberg argues that one can better understand classical “Music as a Mirror of History”.

In reflecting on the history of music, Greenberg offers his perception of the era in which music is composed. He makes wry comments about each era with the hindsight of an obviously well-read consumer of history. At the same time, Greenberg offers expert analysis of classical music and its composers. With snippets of each composer’s work, an Audiobook is a perfect venue for his presentation.

English religion wavered back and forth between Roman Catholicism’s control by the Pope and the Church of England’s control by the King of England. English King Henry the VIII demands control of Catholicism (particularly the church’s land assets and taxes collected on those assets).

After two failed royals (after King Henry VIII’s death), Elizabeth stabilizes England’s governance. She reigns from 1558-1603. Greenberg explains the many challenges facing Queen Elizabeth before she gains the throne.

Greenberg notes Queen Elizabeth’s reign is a perceived golden era, in spite of the squalor of 16th century London living.

Greenberg notes that Queen Elizabeth is the first English monarch, after two predecessors, to sustain Henry VIII’s Church of England. With Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the King, not the Pope, controls the role of Catholicism in England.

Greenberg begins by explaining how madrigals reflect the myths of nationalism. He defines a madrigal as a song for several voices, without instrumental accompaniment. Madrigals began in the 14th century in Italy but Greenberg introduces Thomas Morley, a composer in the 16th century.

Thomas Morley’s Piaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1557)

Morley is a 16th century composer. He composes a madrigal to Elizabeth I. As is typical of this form of music, it idealizes England’s suzerainty and Elizabeth’s reign as Queen of England.

Greenberg moves on to the 18th century. He introduces George Frideric Handel. Though Handel is German, he chooses to move to London, after successfully touring Italy. Greenberg notes Handel tells his Prussian patron (King Frederick I) that his sojourn to London is only temporary, but Handel’s intent is to stay.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1959)

King Frederick I of Prussia (1657-1713)

Handel persuades the King of Prussia to allow him to stay in England by dedicating the three suites of “The Water Music” to him.

Ironically, Handel becomes renowned in London for his “Water Music”, even though its dedicated to a foreign monarch. Greenberg offers a snippet of the 1717 “Water Music” which makes one interested in hearing more.

Handel composes the opera Rinaldo that makes him the toast of London in 1719. His most famous work is “Messiah”, an oratorio (an orchestra and voices production) composed in 1741. He becomes an English citizen in 1727, goes blind in 1751, and dies in London, in 1759.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Moving on, Greenberg introduces Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As one may remember from the movie, Mozart is a phenom with an unusual predilection for risqué ideas. Greenberg notes this is the time of the rise of the Ottoman empire.

Turkish influence is widely adopted in the late 18th century.  Mozart capitalizes on its popularity with the opera called “The Abduction from the Harem”. In spite of Mozart’s introduction of Turkish influence in music, Greenberg explains Mozart is fatally affected by the rise of the Ottoman empire because of its economic impact on Europe.

Mozart falls ill in Prague and dies in poverty in Vienna, at the age of 35. Greenberg suggests Mozart brings Turkish influence into opera’s mainstream with the Ottoman Empire’s expansion.

Greenberg reflects on the Napoleonic era and its affect on Haydn and Beethoven who were great composers of their time, and ours. Greenberg’s characterization of these composer’s view Napoleon with “ambivalence”.

Napoleon began his conquests with an image as liberator (from religious persecution, royalty, and social inequality), but when he crowned himself as Emperor, many felt betrayed. The betrayal was Napoleon’s pact with the Roman Catholic Church and his assumption of the throne as Emperor of France.

As Austrians, both Haydn and Beethoven reviled Napoleon’s royal ascension. Haydn composed “Mass in the Time of War” that memorialized Napoleon’s creation of a war machine that threatened Vienna.

Beethoven composed “Wellington’s Victory” in 1813 that became his most successful composition. Ironically, Greenberg suggests that “Wellington’s Victory” is one of Beethoven’s lesser musical achievements. He argues that Beethoven creates a bombastic rather than melodic tribute to the English general that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

This is only a small part of what Greenberg covers in this 24-lecture series. He analyzes Russian composers and their early disdain for European musical traditions. Greenberg observes Russia is shown to be a “…riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, as referred to by Winston Churchill.

Greenberg touches on the histories of the Straus family (a father and son who competed against each other), Brahms, Gottschalk (an American composer surprisingly unknown by many), Verdi, Wagner, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov, Holst, Berg (who composed an opera reflecting on the madness of war), Shostakovich, Copland, Gorecki, and Crumb.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1883, German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor.)

Of interest is Greenberg’s analysis of Richard Wagner because of Wagner’s repugnant philosophy, but incredibly inventive and beautiful operas.

“The Ring of the Nibelung” reminds one of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. Greenberg explains “The Ring…” is a critique of 19th century European society and its self-interested pursuit of capitalist wealth. Greenberg infers the subject is ironic because Wagner pursues wealth as diligently as any European of that era. The repugnant part is the horrendous and false accusations made against people of the Jewish faith by Wagner and his acolytes (one of which becomes Adolph Hitler).

Nickolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908, Russian composer.)

Of note is recognition of Rimsky-Korsakov as one of Opera’s greatest composers.

Greenberg notes that anti-European sentiment of earlier Russian composers is still present but Rimsky-Korsakov studies much of what is practiced by European composers. “The Golden Cockeral” is Rimsky-Korsakov’s last opera. It is based on a Pushkin’ poem but staged as a parody of the failure of Russian Royal’ leadership.

Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918, assassinated by the Bolsheviks.)

To the Russian Tsar’s dismay, it is an opera that satirizes the autocracy of Russian imperialism and Russia’s inept war with Japan in 1904-05.

Greenberg shows Rimsky-Korsadov’s life as example of how current times mirror a composer’s work. Tsar Nicholas II is not pleased with “The Golden Cockeral”. Rimsky-Korsakov retires, but one wonders if his last opera is not a forewarning of 1917.

(Greenberg notes that Rimsky-Korsakov draws some of his operatic ideas from fairy tales).

One wonders what he could have composed if “Animal Farm” (published in 1945) had been written in his life time.

Greenberg finishes music’s mirror of history in the 1970s with a review of Gorecki and Crumb. This is an enlightening tour of classical music. It offers many reasons for modern audiences to attend symphony and opera performances.

CREATIVE ADULT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Words without Music: A Memoir

Written by: Philip Glass

Narration by:  Lloyd James

“Words without Music” is a memoir of Philip Glass’s transformation to creative adult.  This is a journey taken by every child–with greater and lesser degrees of actualized creativity. 

Glass explains how love by others transforms his life and why self-actualization is the fountain of creativity.  This is certainly not a new revelation.  Socrates, through the words of Plato, characterizes self-actualization in the dictum of “know thy self”.   Self-actualization is explained as the penultimate goal of life by Abraham Maslow.

Glass recounts his childhood with a description of his ex-Marine father, and school teacher mother.  Glass’s father is a small business entrepreneur who raises his children in a rough New York neighborhood.  Strength, determination, and adventurousness come from Glass’s father.

Glass explains how his father feared little in a neighborhood of gangs; while managing his record business with an iron hand. Glass learns how to overcome fear in working in his father’s record shop and taking the proceeds of the day to the bank at the end of the day.  Glass sees himself, as though in a mirror, when he chooses not to tell his father of a customer’s theft of a record.  Glass knows his father will act reflexively by over-zealously punishing the thief.

WOMEN AND THE LADDER TO SUCCESS

Glass describes the soul of his family as his mother.  She is the conservator, the method-of-living key to Glass’s growth as an artist. 

Glass strives to be a good student and is accepted by the University of Chicago based on academic tests rather than high school graduation.  He chooses to become a musician based on early experience as a flutist, and later as a pianist.  He finds from counseling with a Julliard alumnus that composing rather than playing music is more conducive to his innate ability.  In these pursuits, Glass’s mother is his rock, his supporter and adviser.

After graduating, Glass chooses to travel to Paris in pursuit of a composer’s education.  He is mentored by an older woman who provides the technical skill and stern loving support he needs to continue his journey toward actualization.  Glass chooses to leave his mentor with a woman of his own age and travel to India.  Glass sees himself in a way that requires reinforcement from others.  “Others” are teachers of the ancient practice of yoga.

Glass returns to America with a wife, with whom he has two children.  He lives in New York and works as a furniture mover and taxi driver while pursuing his education as a composer.  Glass is approaching thirty.  He begins to have serendipitous success.  The first big break is an opera called “Einstein on the Beac

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963, Novelist, Poet, Artist, Film Maker

Glass’s journey is symbolized by his dissection of the works of Jean Cocteau; i.e. particularly La_Belle_et_la_Bête (Beauty and the Beast).  Glass argues that Cocteau’s works are about human creativity and transformation.  The symbolism in La_Belle_et_la_Bête is the story of Glass’s life.  The rose in Cocteau’s movie symbolizes beauty (Glass’s body of work). The key is the method (Glass’s mother). The horse is strength, determination, and speed (Glass’s father). The glove is nobility (Glass’s renown as a composer). The castle is a prison that can only be escaped with love from another (Glass’s three wives, his children, his mentors, and friends). The Mirror symbolizes who you truly are (this memoir of Glass’s life).

This is a nicely written and narrated memoir of Philip Glass; considered by many as the most influential composer of the late twentieth century.

CREATIVE ADULT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Words without Music: A MemoirWords without Music

Written by: Philip Glass

Narration by:  Lloyd James

PHILIP GLASS (AMERICAN COMPOSER)
PHILIP GLASS (AMERICAN COMPOSER)

“Words without Music” is a memoir of Philip Glass’s transformation to creative adult.  This is a journey taken by every child–with greater and lesser degrees of actualized creativity.  Glass explains how love by others transforms his life and why self-actualization is the fountain of creativity.  This is certainly not a new revelation.  Socrates, through the words of Plato, characterizes self-actualization in the dictum of “know thy self”.   Self-actualization is explained as the penultimate goal of life by Abraham Maslow.

Glass recounts his childhood with a description of his ex-Marine father, and school teacher mother.  Glass’s father is a small business man who raises his children in a rough New York neighborhood.  Strength, determination, and adventurousness come from Glass’s father.

PHILIP GLASS (WITH HIS FATHER, A RECORD STORE OWNER, WHO SENT HIS SON TO HIGH-END MUSIC SCHOOLS)
PHILIP GLASS (WITH HIS FATHER, A RECORD STORE OWNER, WHO SENT HIS SON TO HIGH-END MUSIC SCHOOLS)

The soul of Glass’s family is his mother.  She is the conservator, the method-of-living key to Glass’s growth as an artist.  Glass explains how his father feared little in a neighborhood of gangs; while managing his record business with an iron hand.

Glass learns how to overcome fear in working in his father’s record shop and taking the proceeds of the day to the bank at the end of the day.  Glass sees himself, as though in a mirror, when he chooses not to tell his father of a customer’s theft of a record.  Glass knows his father will act reflexively by overzealously punishing the thief.

women are the sun
WOMEN ARE THE SUN, THE SOURCE OF ENERGY AROUND WHICH MEN REVOLVE.    (In Glass’s  pursuits, he notes that his mother is his rock, his supporter and adviser.)

Glass strives to be a good student and is accepted by the University of Chicago based on academic tests rather than high school graduation.  Glass chooses to become a musician based on early experience as a flutist, and later as a pianist.  He finds from counseling, from a Julliard alumnus, that composing music rather than playing music is more conducive to his innate ability.  In these pursuits, Glass’s mother is his rock, his supporter and adviser.

After graduating, Glass chooses to travel to Paris in pursuit of a composer’s education.  He is mentored by an older woman who provides the technical skill and stern loving support he needs to continue his journey toward actualization.  Glass chooses to leave his mentor with a woman of his own age and travel to India.  Glass sees himself in a way that requires reinforcement from others.  “Others” are teachers of the ancient practice of yoga.

PHILIP GLASS AND HIS FAMILY IN 1973
PHILIP GLASS AND HIS FAMILY IN 1973

Glass returns to America with a wife, with whom he has two children.  He lives in New York and works as a furniture mover and taxi driver while pursuing his education as a composer.  Glass is approaching thirty.  He begins to have serendipitous success.  The first big break is an opera called “Einstein on the Beach”.

JEAN COCTEAU (1889-1963, NOVELIST, POET, ARTIST, FILM MAKER)
JEAN COCTEAU (1889-1963, NOVELIST, POET, ARTIST, FILM MAKER)

Glass’s journey is symbolized by his dissection of the works of Jean Cocteau; i.e. particularly La_Belle_et_la_Bête (Beauty and the Beast).  Glass argues that Cocteau’s works are about human creativity and transformation.  The symbolism in La_Belle_et_la_Bête is the story of Glass’s life.  The rose in Cocteau’s movie symbolizes beauty (Glass’s body of work). The key is the method (Glass’s mother). The horse is strength, determination, and speed (Glass’s father). The glove is nobility (Glass’s renown as a composer). The castle is a prison that can only be escaped with love from another (Glass’s three wives, his children, his mentors, and friends). The Mirror symbolizes who you truly are (this memoir of Glass’s life).

This is a nicely written and narrated memoir of Philip Glass; considered by many as the most influential composer of the late twentieth century.